I know what you’re thinking — not another naked-Chinese-stuntman story. Still, I think this one is worth telling.
He Yun Chang, a 38-year-old man from Beijing, was arrested last weekend and charged with disorderly conduct and public indecency after he stripped, waded into the water, and tied himself to a rock about 40 yards from the brink of Niagara Falls. Chang, who was described both as a "stuntman" and a "performance artist" by the Buffalo News, had apparently come from China with a detailed written plan for the Niagara Falls engagement. Under the plan, he would anchor himself naked near the brink of the falls, endure the elements for 24 hours, and then somehow climb down the falls and do the same thing at the base of the falls.
That plan certainly seems foolproof, but things went wrong when the knot Chang used came untied. With no anchor, Chang was forced to try to make his way back upriver to his starting point on Goat Island. Police expressed amazement that he was able to make any progress upriver through the rapids, "being barefoot and all." A tourist called police, who rushed to the scene and pulled the naked Chang out of the water. They were unable to ask him what he was doing, however, because Chang speaks no English. "So we grabbed a tourist who happens to speak Chinese," said a police spokesman, "and he said ‘He’s doing an experiment.’ That’s the interpretation that we got."
I guess Chang’s "experiment" supports the hypothesis, "A naked man who comes untied from Goat Island will not be swept over Niagara Falls to almost certain death," although I suspect further tests might call that into question. Whatever message was supposed to be conveyed by the performance, if that’s what it was, was apparently completely lost on the potential audience of tourists, most of whom paid absolutely no attention. The tourist who called police did so only because he believed Chang was trying to commit suicide.
According to the Buffalo News, the "stunt that was attempted Saturday has been tried three times before," in 1860, 1864, and 1927. It was not entirely clear to me how similar these other "stunts" were, however. The two listed Civil-War-era stunts involved attempts to walk to the brink of the falls on stilts, and in 1927 the man was not wearing stilts, but rather "sneakers with spikes in them." But none of these men were Chinese, and if they were naked (apart from stilts or sneakers) the report did not mention that minor detail.